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Design portfolios: What we look for | Edgar Allan

We spend tons of time looking at design portfolios, even when we’re not hiring. We’re curious who’s out there doing what, where. Here’s a short list of things we look for.

If we can’t find you, we can’t talk to you

If you design digital things, you should absolutely have a website. Spend time thinking about how you want the world to see you. What you show obviously says a lot about what you have done, but more importantly what you want to do. “But I can’t code!” Not an excuse. There are a bajillion tools/platforms enabling you to build a portfolio at a relatively low cost.

Don’t worry about the resume - it’s all about your work

Don’t spend a ton of time designing a resume, we learn everything we need from a quick scan (literally 20 seconds) of LinkedIn. The last resume I put together was in 2006 when I moved to Atlanta.

Things we look for on LinkedIn:

  • Did you go to school for design? It’s quite ok if you didn’t. I technically should be drawing wildlife right now. But schooling shows you have a passion and invested time and money. You’re here for it.
  • How long have you been working in design? Experience is a far better school. Spending time “in the trenches” you learn way more, and make lifelong friendships. (The best part of it all.)
  • If so, where have you been? Perhaps we know some of the same people. Asking around is quite common and it can put you higher on the list, but also take you out of consideration. (We don’t work in a vacuum, be nice to people and always ask how you can help - see below)
  • How long were you at previous jobs? Do you jump quickly from lily pad to lily pad? That tells us a couple of things - FOMO or Uh oh! Either you’re always looking for a better gig which doesn’t give us confidence you’ll stick around, or things don’t work out because it’s something about you…
  • What does your career trajectory look like. If you spent 2 years as a designer and then suddenly shot up to ECD, hey great for you, but that really doesn’t happen. There’s a typical trajectory that makes a great designer: You + Time + People + Projects

“I don’t have interesting work”

“Hogwash” I say! Find ways to make anything interesting, isn’t that what you want to be paid to do? Don’t just show screenshots of the final website–remix it, break it apart, show sketches, have Donkey Kong using the search bar as a surfboard, I don’t know. We make so much throughout the process, there should be plenty to build a story upon. It also shows your process and brain workings as well.

Keep it slim

Everyone says this, largely because it’s true: prioritize quality over quantity. Edit your portfolio down to 10 projects or so, and make them amazing. We’re usually quickly sold on the first few projects we select and the overall impression. It’s great you have 26 in there, but most likely we won’t get to all of them. Write a small setup for each and then get out of the way.

It’s okay not to have a singular design style, quite frankly, it’s better that way

Because of the diversity of clients and their needs, we’re often called to be digital chameleons - working within a framework we didn’t create, but are asked to differentiate and make better. Pushing yourself into unfamiliar territory is also a great way to grow.

FYI, this doesn’t apply to illustrators. We hire you explicitly for your style, keep doing your thing.

Give credit where due

We want to know what your role was in the project. If you were the mastermind, great! If you weren’t, that’s fine too. But where were you when the work was happening? Were you right there in the front row learning? Did you play clean up? How big was the team? Were you the only designer? Were you drifting in a sea of designers? Did you work with people outside of the design team? (hopefully yes) This helps give context to the work and your contribution, however great or small.

Good attitudes and manners go a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very long way

Great work isn’t the only factor in the equation of getting hired. We all want to enjoy the work we do, with the people we do it with, day in and day out so don’t be a jerk. Being creative often means being vulnerable with your teammates. As there are never any stupid questions, there should never be a person on your team you avoid because of a bad attitude. If you think you’re hot$hit, at least be humble about it.

Get noticed

Applications stack up and become insurmountable depending on where you apply. Find a way to get in front of people besides an email/digital submission.

One morning Kendra noticed we were tagged on Instagram. It was a picture of our front door, and sitting at the bottom was a cardboard horse. We went to the door and low and behold, a tiny cardboard horse fell into our office. Befuddled, we brought it inside to curiously examine it. To our delight, inside was a little handmade book explaining why a designer named Blake was amazing and why he would be a great fit at Edgar Allan. It was an actual f*cking Trojan Horse. He had an interview the next morning and was hired shortly thereafter.

That horse sat proudly on our wall in the office, not only to remind us of that amazing moment, but that our work too can and should be delightful, and fun and different.

So y’all - Do great things. Get creative. Be bold. And most important, be nice.  

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